I adore sea otters and have posted several articles / photos / videos about California sea otters on my blog. Until recently — and although I grew up in the Philippines — I did not know there were otters in the Philippines, too.
It turns out that sea otters are found not only along the coastal areas of the Pacific Ocean in North America but also in parts of Asia.
In the Philippines, otters live in the Palawan area, on the western part of the archipelago.
There is not much information about Philippine otters posted on-line, not even within the comprehensive National Geographic website.
And I could not find information on exactly how many otters are left in the wild in Palawan or anything else about their current status.
So far, here is what I did find:
The Asian short-clawed otter has a large distribution, ranging from north-western and south-western India, through southern China (including Hainan) and the Malay Peninsula, to Sumatra, Java, Borneo and the Riau Archipelago (Indonesia), and Palawan Island in the Philippines.
The Switzerland-based International Union for Conservation of Nature(IUCN) list Asian sea otters in the “Threatened” category.
Specifically, Asian sea otters are listed as “Vulnerable” under the IUCN Red list.
As with other wildlife vulnerable to or facing extinction in the Philippines, the threats to otters include deforestation, pollution, humans destroying the otters and their natural habitats (e.g., turning mangroves into aquaculture farms).
Compared to the sea otters we see here on the central California coast, the Philippine otter is much smaller. This video from Diana J. Limjoco’s blog shows 3 young Philippine otters brought to her Palawan home by locals.
The otters on this video — like most otters — are truly adorable. I am curious about how they are doing, especially health-wise living among the other domesticated pets in the household.
I am also curious if there is a program in the Philippines established to care for orphaned otters so they can be re-introduced back into the wild (as the topic of the film Saving Otter 501 — shown on the PBS show Nature).
In neighboring countries of Malaysia and Singapore, otters are totally protected by the government. In the Philippines, Republic Act # 9147 (2001) prohibits the killing, collection, possession, and maltreatment of wildlife.
But if locals do not know about the R.A. 9147 law or how special and rare these creatures are, and if there is no funding to enforce the law or do public service announcements (PSAs), then the law is useless in terms of saving remaining Philippine otters.
There was a blog started by Philippine otter researchers called “Palawan Otters” (Lyca Sandrea G. Castro) but it may be abandoned as there were only a few post, and not any new information since last year. I hope they are continuing their research and will post new information on the blog soon. (NOTE – as of September, 2014, Ms. Castro has revived the blog — YAY!!! I have added the “protecting otters” poster from the Palawan Otters blog at the bottom of this post.)
Here is another video of Asian small-clawed otters at the Wellington Zoo in New Zealand playing with a pebble, via Wikipedia commons.
When I think of poverty issues facing many Filipinos it seems that my interest and focus on endangered animals are inconsequential. What is the point of learning about these animals and writing a blog post if they are so close to the edge of extinction. What difference is it going to make…
I suppose there is always hope, and I am again reminded of the 1968 quote from Senegalese environmentalist Baba Dioum:
“In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.”
Sometimes, endangered wildlife are killed simply due to a lack of understanding of their role in our ecosystem, or by necessity, caught for food…it is as basic as that, and goes back to poverty issues.
The same problems that cause wildlife to become extinct — pollution from pesticides, loss of their habitat due to illegal activities that degrade the environment — are issues that also make people vulnerable to other disasters. So I don’t think we have a choice…we have to learn about endangered wildlife and how their loss affects our ecosystem, and spread the word. It can only improve our prospect for saving our environment and perhaps make the difference for future inhabitants of our planet.
UPDATE: As I was getting ready to publish this post, I googled “Philippine Wildlife Act 9147 sea otters” and found a comprehensive paper written by Jeric Bocol Gonzalez titled Distribution Exploitation and Trade Dynamics of A.cinereus in Mainland Palawan, Philippines. Published in 2010, the situation did not look promising for rare Philippine sea otters back then! Does anyone have any new information since publication of Jeric’s thesis?
Other (Sea) Otter posts on LolaKo.com:
- A raft of sea otters
- The sea otter’s one-eyed peak
- Adorable Sea Otter video – on the rocks by Monterey Bay wildlife photographer Efren B. Adalem
Related endangered wildlife posts:
- Haring Ibon - the magnificent & critically endangered Philippine eagle
- Monterey Bay and our connection to the endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtles
LAST NOTE: If you want more information about otters in other parts of the world, visit the IUCN’s Otter Specialist Group website (where I found Jeric Gonzalez’s paper).